Piling on Mrs. and Mr. Ray Rice
by Richard Kostelanetz (October 2014)
I find it profoundly disturbing that an American professional football player should be suspended, perhaps permanently, for knocking unconscious a woman who initially had slugged him. A surreptitious videotape shows him dragging by her hair the woman who, incidentally, became his wife. The motive for killing his athletic career is purportedly teaching other athletes first and then men in general about the possible costs of domestic violence.
The truths apparently escaping Ray Rice’s critics is that the woman didn’t press charges and indeed later married him, all in spite of being visibly abused. Why or why not is her business, not yours or mine. Doesn’t everyone know that people get into weapon-free fights all the time, often with people they love and to whom they are legally tied; but unless the police are summoned or choose to get involved at the time or unless someone abused presses charges, what happened should interest nobody else.
Another truth suppressed is that intersexual attack is not a one-way street. Women attack men, sometimes maiming or killing them, all the time. Indeed, if anyone slugs another person, no matter if male or female, big or small, white or black, young or old, they shouldn’t be surprised if the other hits back. Doesn’t a judge customarily ask who hits whom first? Here the surreptitious tape provides conclusive evidence.
The most vivid example of a woman killing her husband in my memory has the record producer Felix Pappalardi, shot in 1983 in bed in his underwear by his wife Gail Collins in the highclass Waterside Plaza complex along Manhattan’s East River. I can recall my lover at the time, upon hearing the radio news, saying, “He must have done something real bad.” (After serving two years for manslaughter, his widow disappeared into Mexico where she died three decades later, reportedly a recluse.) Anyone who claims that women never brutalize men must be living in Lalaland.
To sexual sophisticates it should come as no surprise that some people for some reason (escaping me) like to be beaten by someone they love (or at least don’t mind). This last truth is no less true now than it was a thousand years ago. In more observation, it’s truer for homosexuals who, once defining themselves as erotic outlaws, explore alternative pleasures further. May I further suggest that nobody could pursue the sport of boxing, for instance, unless he had some affection for pain.
Why is such smug disrespect for the wife’s decisions so widespread? Because she is young? Black? Beautiful? And for each or all three thus perhaps assumed to be stupid? None of these excuses for disrespecting Ms. Janay Palmer Rice are acceptable. Anyone telling her what to do now—anyone claiming to represent her interests without her consent—is smugly condescending, if not infantilizing. Even if coming from another woman, such “advice” is, yes, unacceptably sexist. People buried smugly in their agendas typically don’t see individuals. Second, most of us routinely dismiss anyone, no matter how self-important, claiming to know us better than we know ourselves. In this respect, Janay is no different from you or I.
Consider this sensitive statement Ms. Palmer Rice released as an Instagram:
I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I'm mourning the death of my closest friend. But you have to accept the fact that reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that the media and unwanted [opinions] from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific. THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don't you all get? If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow and show the world what real love is!
Who else could dare accuse well-intentioned bullies of taking “all happiness away; you succeeded on so many levels”? Indicatively, this letter has been quoted, in its entirety thankfully, by commentators who see more weakness than strength, perhaps because they are innately thick, probably because their agendas blind their comprehension.
I’m reminded of the media’s whipping of Woody Allen for marrying Sun-Yi, not exactly a slick “looker,” if only to note two decades later that the two are still, yep, married. (Where can I bet that, if the Rices stay together over this egregious invasion of their privacy, they will be married as well two decades from now?) Know as well that Ms. Palmer Rice is scarcely a football groupie, having dated her husband since they were in neighboring high schools a decade ago.
Indeed, one subtext here, quite familiar to people such as myself who went to high school in Westchester county, is that Ms. and Mr. Rice, two generations behind me, attended public high schools in Mt. Vernon and New Rochelle respectively. Their fellow students were predominantly colored, while Roger Goodell, only a generation younger than I, went to school in adjacent Bronxville, a smaller town with notorious strict residency requirements. Sandwiched between New Rochelle to its east and Mt. Vernon to its south, Bronxville is notorious for excluding from residence there anyone black, brown, Italian, or even Jewish. Given a chance, as here, Bronxville folk routinely tell their poorer neighbors what better to do with themselves.
True feminists should defend a woman’s control of her own body and mind, especially before great public pressure, instead of glibly blaming men for whatever, as too often happens. Throw me some “psychological” hokum about victims and I’ll reply with comparable hokum about bullies. How would you or any other self-respecting person judge busybodies who advise you to think as you’d rather not? Women telling women what to do with men is no less objectionable than men telling men what to do about women. The most prominent person who should come to Ms. Palmer Rice’s rescue is Michelle Obama, who resists white Americans who push blacks around. If Ms. Obama fails Ms. Rice, may I think less of her?
To my mind, the key figure in this story is not the footballer but his wife, a new celebrity, whom strangers want to enlist for their long-fomenting agenda(s); and these pseudo-do-gooders can’t accept her reluctance to serve their cause(s). I should add that I identify with her, recalling that I too gained some celebrity in my mid-twenties, mostly for contributing strong articles in highly visible publications. As a result I was invited by various older cultural operators to join their operation(s), which I was reluctant to do when I discovered that they really didn’t respect my integrity—or, more precisely, respected me only insofar as I could be mobilized to serve their agenda(s).
Strangers failing to enlist her (and me) express their disappointment in making up putative reasons for reluctance—in my case, say, for being some form of a “difficult person,” in her case, for being some sort of an athlete-chasing wench. Needless to say perhaps, such false interpretations are persuasive only to those predisposed and/or gullible. In my judgment, those trying to enlist us are bullies. And so I ask others discussing this experience whether they identify with Ms. Rice or those trying to advise her. To no surprise perhaps, while I stand with her, some of the latter are female.
To my mind, one theme of this episode is that all the recent efforts at sexual enlightenment have more mountains to scale. Remember the adage popular decades ago: different strokes for different folks. I can recall a girl friend of mine shocked by what she saw in the traveling bag of a gay friend visiting his church-certified spouse, beginning with whips and handcuffs! To many of us strait-laced, “queer” can be queer indeed. May I venture that somewhere some queers are privately laughing their beds about what smug straights publicly disapprove.
What would the National Football League do about players who exchange fisticuffs only with each other in some private venue? Or have whips and handcuffs in their locker or traveling luggage? Or throw pies at each other or at management? Or a player caught on camera subjecting a woman to anal sex? Or? Or? Another truth scarcely noticed is that Ray Rice as a running back is an offensive player shorter at 5’8” than nearly everyone else on the field, which is to say that he tries not to hit but to evade being hit.
May I also judge that penalizing professionals for activities having nothing to do with their jobs is incipiently totalitarian? What will be the token for prosecution next year? Reading a forbidden book? Eating chocolate? Also, no one has suggested that Ray Rice has performed similarly again with his wife or anyone else, though I’m sure that some journalistic gumshoes are beating the bushes.
This whole episode of white people, mostly women, selecting a black woman to do their bidding reminds me of another episode from more than two decades ago. Wanting to discredit Clarence Thomas, who had been nominated for the US Supreme Court and needed Senate approval, some white women enlisted Anita Hill, who had years before described to a few of them her experience of sexual harassment while working in an office where Thomas was the boss. Whereas she had not identified the threatening male by name before, these white women persuaded Hill to say that the harasser was Thomas. The fact that the harassment really occurred, though the man was someone else, gave her narrative considerable weight.
At the time I noted that she quoted Thomas mentioning the name of a notorious male porn star at a time when he wouldn’t have known about him and so exposed her as a fibber in the monthly Liberty (January 1992, "Sex, Race, and the Single Gentleman", reprinted in my book Political Essays [Autonomedia, 1998]). Writing in a libertarian magazine that routinely mocked uptight conservatives, I noted that no right-winger dare risk public familiarity with pornography. Only later did I discover that Anita Hill’s bigger lie was attributing to Thomas someone else’s bad behavior. The truth of this episode is that an insecure black woman allowed certain white women to set her up for further trouble, such as a perjury indictment, which to Anita Hill’s good fortune never happened. Now I sense that a different group of white people, mostly female, want Janay Palmer Rice to do their anti-male bidding, and, incorrigibly uppity, she’s refusing. Bless her.
Concurrent with the suspension of Rice the NFL has furloughed another player, a bigger star likewise a running back, named Adrian Peterson, who whipped his very young son with a switch. This no one denies. Nonetheless, the sometime basketballer Charles Barkley told an inteviewer, “We spank kids in the south. I think the question about did Adrian Peterson go overboard…. We all grow up in different environments. Every black parent in my neighborhood in the South would be in trouble or in jail under those circumstances.” When Barkley then identified his grandmother as particularly severe with her switch, I summoned this image of “a granny wing” in southern slammers. It seems incongruous to me that at a time when Americans often bend over backwards to make concessions to Muslims new to these shores, they can’t do likewise by African-Americans who’ve long been here. Different strokes for different folks.
Another issue here deserving more discussion is the status of footage obtained from hidden “security” cameras of people who know each other. I think such footage should by law be destroyed unless it portrays a security violation, which the Rice contratemps wasn’t. If only to challenge this invasive procedure, I from time to time fondle my septuagenarian lover in an elevator that has no one else present, hoping to be stopped by some smug busybody watching us on his camera. (I’d take the jerk’s picture and post it on the Internet, natch.)
Decades ago, I used to swim in an NYC public pool along side the prominent lawyer Leonard Boudin. He would typically walk home through Seventh Avenue bare-chested, his towel over his shoulder and his pace-maker showing, no doubt inviting some zealous cop to arrest him for “indecent exposure,” probably to the cop’s regret. Though I doubt if any did (as none are mentioned in Susan Braudy’s rich biography), his provocation remains, for me at least, a model not forgotten.
May I hope that Ray Rice finds football employment elsewhere, probably in Canada, where authorities might be more culturally enlightened, and that he sues the NFL for several sins, the first being for the unacceptable invasion of his and his wife’s privacy, a second being dishonest use of videotape. Also conclude that any law forbidding people from aggressively touching close relatives is likely to backfire. (Imagine incarcerated grannys mounting a prison rebellion armed with their switches.) And that Ms. Palmer Rice herself, clearly a strong woman, deflates any smug bully disrespecting her choices. Hide your eyes and close your mouths, guys and, yes, gals. Itsnoneofyourbusiness.
Individual entries on Richard Kostelanetz’s work in several fields appear in various editions of Readers Guide to Twentieth-Century Writers, Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, Contemporary Poets, Contemporary Novelists, Postmodern Fiction, Webster's Dictionary of American Writers, The HarperCollins Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Directory of American Scholars, Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in American Art, NNDB.com, Wikipedia.com, and Britannica.com, among other distinguished directories. Otherwise, he survives in New York, where he was born, unemployed and thus overworked.
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